Louisville Medicine Volume 68, Issue 8 - Page 6



In the summer , I would frequently be out for walks in the late

evenings , listening to podcasts . It was my way to relax and learn . One of my favorite episodes was with Ten Percent with Dan Harris where he spoke with Dr . Jonas Salk ’ s son , Dr . Jonathan Salk , an adult and child psychiatrist with UCLA . He talked about vaccines and how his dad administered vaccines to his own children to prevent polio , after he knew that the vaccines were safe . Salk emphasized that it was important to ensure safety with the vaccines .
The summer was marked by patients frequently asking questions about the vaccine trials and if they were safe , asking if it was being too rushed . I said we had to go fast , people are dying . As for safety , I ’ d point to friends who were enrolled in the vaccine trials , Dr . Jon Klein and Dr . Denise Puthuff for instance , the professors and scientists who had signed up right away .
When I received emails over the summer in regard to volunteering for the vaccine trials from Norton Healthcare , I knew I had to sign up . This was an opportunity to help with research and show my patients these vaccines were safe . Once the Johnson & Johnson ENSEMBLE trial opened , I filled out a secondary questionnaire in regard to my medical history . Within two hours , I had an email from a research nurse scheduling me for an appointment . The appointment for the trial was on a Thursday . I received the consent in advance , and a kind nurse walked through the entire consent during the appointment . The moment of pause for me was : “ If a vaccine becomes available , you can ’ t take it until the trial is over .” In this case , this trial is two years to evaluate the efficacy of the vaccine , the duration of the vaccine , and how patients do over time . This science was worth the risk .
I made the cut , had an exam by a physician , had blood drawn and a COVID-19 nasal swab test . I received an injection that day - possibly the vaccine or placebo - and was sent home with a bag of goodies , including a thermometer and pulse oximeter to check my vitals for the study diary . My arm was somewhat sore , but forgettable .
Like any good millennial , I marked my entry into the trial by posting it on Instagram . The tons of questions in response surprised me . I took the opportunity to educate , to share and discuss the questions on my page .
One of to the first questions was : “ So you were definitely exposed to COVID-19 ?” This is such a common misconception . I clarified for the audience how I was not exposed to COVID-19 . Vaccines deliver “ altered germs ,” not the real thing , just close enough to make our bodies make antibodies against the real thing . This Johnson & Johnson vaccine was created with a weakened adenovirus modified with the COVID-19 spike protein , to stimulate our immune systems to recognize and make neutralizing antibodies against the real COVID-19 . Johnson & Johnson had with similar technique created the Ebola vaccine approved a year ago . The Pfizer and Moderna Vaccines use an mRNA as the platform for their vaccines .
They asked , “ What side effects did you experience , and have you had vaccine reactions before ?” Whew . The shot hit me like a train around midnight . I had chills that defied fleece pants and piles of blankets , my arm and leg muscles ached , my neck hurt , and I could not even fall asleep . Coincidentally , we had a Greater Louisville Medical Society Executive Board meeting at 7:00 a . m . that day . I hid my exhaustion , all the while wondering what came next . I ’ d never had a vaccine reaction , ever . It reminded me of what some patients have told me about the Shingrix vaccine . Magically , within 36 hours it all evaporated .
“ Were you scared ? This sounds like human testing .” Of course it is human testing . These large trials were approved only after animal safety testing , then testing small groups of people to define safety and side effects . In the small 2,000 subject trials , no severe events occurred . Current trials are enrolling 30,000 people , and by the time you read this , at least two vaccines will have been approved and shipped out .
With vaccines , the risk of unsafe adverse events is extremely low . I ’ m in the trial because I wanted to show my patients that this vaccine was safe . I wanted to describe my experience for them in detail . I liked my chances of getting the real shot early on . So far , my testimony has left many patients in shock . “ You ’ re participating in the trial ?!” My hope is that it will reassure them , so they ’ ll feel more comfortable taking it .
Lastly , I reminded my Instagram audience and my patients that the process of getting the vaccine will take time . The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , with Operation Warp Speed , is directing the distribution schedule , and it will take months to get vaccines out to the general population . As physicians we must - we